Trump Keeps Boosting White SupremacistsHistorians in the News
tags: far right, Donald Trump, White Supremacy, Nick Fuentes
After the news broke that Donald Trump dined with white-supremacist Nick Fuentes at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago home, Trump rapidly disavowed any knowledge of Fuentes’s views. “I didn’t know Nick Fuentes,” Trump declared.
That’s not particularly credible. But either way, the focus on what Trump knew misses a more consequential part of the story: By breaking bread with Fuentes, Trump handed white supremacists and white-power activists a major propaganda coup. It will be read by them as another sign that they are successfully infiltrating the far-right flank of mainstream GOP politics. So will the silence from many Republican leaders since Trump’s dinner with Fuentes.
I contacted Kathleen Belew, the author of a history of white power movements in the United States, to talk about these undercurrents of the Fuentes story. Belew has an important new essay that digs into the underappreciated role of white power activism in helping drive the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021.
Belew’s argument — which appears in a forthcoming collection edited by historians Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer — is that the current rise in political violence can’t be disentangled from the country’s long history of violent white power activism. This conversation has been edited and condensed.
Greg Sargent: You often argue that these groups and figures are best described as a “white power” movement. Why is that more useful than the term “white supremacist”?
Kathleen Belew: White power is a concentrated but very violent subset within the broader web of white supremacy. White power is better thought about as a connected movement of groups and activists who are overtly racist and interested in using violence to create an all-white ethnostate, society, or even nation. Sometimes they think about an all-white planet.
Fuentes’s dinner with Trump was a huge propaganda victory for white power groups. Why does this dinner function that way for them?
What happened during the Trump years is that he and his administration opened some space for people to use mainstream politics for extremist purposes. A former president sitting for a dinner meeting with a white power activist is the kind of thing that activists can use to claim that they have become a real political force.